The nimble mouthed Chris Rock rachets up "Bad Company" (Touchstone Pictures) from an off-the-asembly-line spy pic to an often hilarious, sometimes anxiety-making wild escapade racing along at breakneck speed.
As well, the droll Rock plays identical twins: a sober sided James Bond and a wise cracking street hustler. The mirror imaged characters is a twist on an antiquated plot device that appears fresh here in the hands of a creative humorist. Rock's idol, comedian Eddie Murphy, put a slightly different spin on the prince and pauper exchange in "Trading Places" to great success as well.
The C.I.A., whose nickname is "the company," willingly puts up many millions of dollars to purchase a portable A Bomb from a Muscovite criminal who has managed to obtain the detonator in the chaos that occurred during the breakup of the Soviet empire. The lead bargainor for the U.S. posing as an antique dealer is the ultra sophisticated Kevin Pope, played by Rock. A renegade band of East Europeans who lost out on the bidding try to snag the detonator with machine guns blasting. Pope dies in the crossfire, although neither the East Europeans nor the Russians are aware of his demise. The C.I.A., who are fearful the bomb will be used as a terrorist strike on the U.S., need a replacement for Pope and fast.
In a grimy park in New York, Jake Hayes, also played by Rock, runs his chess game for all comers who have a few dollars to plunk down to try to beat him, as he simultaneously takes orders for tickets to sports events he fills as a scalper. Obviously brilliant, the laid back Hayes is content to waste his talents rather than attain the true potential his foster mother always contended that he has.
The clock of comeuppance strikes when the love of his life Julie, played by Kerry Washington, tells him that she is giving up on the hope that he'll ever be husband material and is moving to the West Coast to start anew. In the one of the movie's many funny scenes, the devastated Hayes, who is subbing as a deejay in a dance club, switches the rollicking music to a moony ballad that suits his blues to the disgust of the couples on the floor grooving to Ali and The Trackboyz's "Breathe In, Breathe Out" and to the rage of the club manager.
Despondent, Hayes fails to notice he's being observed carefully. The C.I.A. operatives hijack him into a limo driving Hayes to an isolated spot where the head of the unit Oakes, played by Anthony Hopkins, offers Hayes the opportunity to replace Pope in the effort to buy the detonator. Hayes is blinded enough by the salary he bargains for, enough money to beguile Julie into staying with him, that he enters into the deal not realizing the extent of the danger he has put himself in. The adventure proves to be a coming of age experience for Hayes who all along had the stuff but not the self motivation to stand as tall as he could.
There is an intimacy to the direction of the film that likely comes from Director Joel Schumacher's past of working with black actors. Schumacher has a bevy of engrossing action films to his credit, but also a host of more emotionally involving films and comedies, including his second film as a director, Topper Carew's "D.C. Cab." Schumacher also has a writing credit for "Sparkle." The cinematography from Dariusza Wolski glides evocatively across the terrains of the two great cities, New York and Prague.
Although Rock gets no writing credit, his fine hand developed through his stand-up comedy work is evident in the character of Hayes. The urban black man may have been adrift in life but is a decent, warm, and caring person yet one not to be patronized even as he maneuvers on the streets and then on foreign soil. Rock utilizes his comic's repertoire honed through the years but he also reaches into himself for a humanistic dimension to round out Hayes.
The often cast Anthony Hopkins of "Silence of the Lambs" fame is in almost as many movies as Samuel Jackson and for the excellent reason that he carries of his roles with aplomb. At times he gets a kind of devilish look in his eye in "Bad Company" that suggests he enjoys acting opposite Rock.
Kerry Washington, who was the engaging lead actress in Khari Streeter and DeMane Davis's independent film "Lift" shot in Roxbury and Newbury Street, steps gracefully into her debut as a leading actress in "Bad Company." Haitian born actress Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon (who has family in Massachusetts), is gorgeous and feisty as the girlfriend who mistakes Hayes for Pope and threatens to blow his cover.
Beloved seasoned actress Irma P. Hall is endearing as the foster mom to whom Hayes turns again in his moment of need as an adult.
She reassures the young man with the encouraging words that ring with the truthful message delivered by Nina Simone when she sang of the strength of being "young, gifted, and black."
Photograph (Gene Hackman and Chris Rock)